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Creating MIDIs for Individual Practice

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that a choir which comes prepared for rehearsal will perform a lot better than one who doesn’t. It also shouldn’t be surprising that enabling the choir to prepare at home isn’t necessarily a straightforward task. If you aren’t able to play an instrument you pretty much don’t have a way to practice your part at home, and there’s a high probability that at least some people in your choir don’t have an instrument to practice on. So how do you make it possible for everyone in your choir to practice at home? One way to do it is with MIDIs.

What are MIDIs?

MIDIs are small digital music files that store pitch and length values. Multiple tracks can be stored in a MIDI, and each track can have a different volume level and instrument. For the purpose of choral music, tracks are usually assigned to voice part. For example, track 1 could be the soprano line and track 2 could be the alto line. In general it’s very easy to fix errors in a MIDI file because you can change notes individually. Compared to making singing recordings where it’s easier to rerecord a track than it is to fix a wrong note, MIDIs are a heck of a lot easier to manage.

So how do I make MIDIs for singing?

The easiest way to start utilizing MIDIs is to use music that already has corresponding MIDI files. CPDL.org, for instance, has plenty of public domain choral sheet music with MIDIs. The next best way to use MIDIs is to create your own editions of the sheet music and have the notation program output a MIDI for you. This is great because not only do you get a MIDI, but you can format the music however you like. Personally, I really dislike it when sheet music has more than 2 pages, so making my own editions is really nice because I’m not limited to the original form of the music. The notation program I use is lilypond. If you have any liking for working with HTML you’ll probably like this program. Essentially you write up a text file describing the way you’d like the sheet music to look and then lilypond compiles the file and generates a pdf and/or a MIDI of your music. And the best part is, it’s free! Yay open source! There’s plenty of good documentation too. Other popular programs are Finale and Sibelius, although these cost a lot more money and can be a pain in the neck to figure out. Just because they’re “What you see is what you get” programs doesn’t mean they’re easier to use! If you’re not interested in going through the trouble of your own editions, though, you can use other programs like and of Cakewalk’s products to either record the music through a MIDI keyboard or to input the notes by hand. Although, seriously, if you’re going to input the notes by hand you might as well have it output nice sheet music.

How do I adjust the levels on MIDIs?

And by levels I really mean the volume of each track. It’s pretty much given that if you’re going to record MIDIs for your choir you’re going to have one part emphasized over the others or have each part soloed. In my experience I’ve found that emphasizing one part is better than soloing it because that way the other parts can be heard and you can hear where your part fits into the chord and how it fits rhythmically with the other parts. It isn’t that hard to do, but this time you can’t… or maybe you can but you probably shouldn’t… use the notation software. Instead you should use music recording software like the cakewalk products mentioned above. The interface will be a lot easier. Usually it doesn’t require anything more than moving the volume sliders up or down.

So just save each different volume and instrument configuration as a separate file and then you can send the files over email or post them to your website. The files are really small so both are viable options.

Where can I get more information about MIDIs?

As usual, Wikipedia has a good article to get started, although it’s a bit of a technical page. The links at the bottom I think are more useful.

I’ve found that when my choir actually uses the MIDIs at home, they can learn difficult music much faster than just working on it at rehearsal. Also, MIDIs can be useful if you’d like to break up the choir and do a part rehearsals. This way it doesn’t matter if the part leader can play the piano or if there’s a piano or other suitable instrument available.

Yay MIDIs!

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